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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Documents provide new details on case of wildlife official accused of illegally killing whitetail deer in Ferry County

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources, according to the agency’s webpage.  (WDFW)

The state wildlife employee who illegally killed a whitetail buck in Ferry County in November told investigating officers he had “no excuse” and the mistake was “incredibly embarrassing.”

Brock Hoenes, the director for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s north-central region, self-reported and cooperated fully with the investigation, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife police. Hoenes used to be the department’s ungulate section manager.

On Nov. 13, Hoenes was hunting near Boulder Creek Road, which runs between U.S. Highway 395 and state Highway 21, when a deer appeared about 40 yards in front of him, according to the investigation. He could not see enough of the deer, so he moved closer, at which point he saw it was an 8-point whitetail buck. He fired his hunting rifle once, missed and shot again, hitting the animal through the shoulders.

By 8:15 a.m. he had started to skin and quarter the deer. Shortly after that, he told the Fish and Wildlife police, he realized he hadn’t seen or heard any other hunters in the area. Hoenes was in Game Management Unit 101, which includes Ferry and Okanogan counties.

Washington is divided into 153 game management units in which hunting season dates and rules often vary.

He began to suspect that the area was closed to hunting, although he was not in cell coverage. As soon as he was in service, he checked and saw that Game Management Unit 101 was closed to modern rifle hunting. He called his wife, then called a WDFW police captain and finally agency Director Kelly Susewind, according to the documents.

“I had it in my head that it was open,” Hoenes told police.

A late general whitetail deer hunting seasons runs from Nov. 6 to 19 in Washington; however, the only whitetail season open in GMU 101 was a late archery season.

The Ferry County prosecutor charged Hoenes with unlawful hunting of big game in the second degree on Dec. 20.

The Spokesman-Review reported on the allegations this week after two environmental activist groups that have a contentious relationship with the department provided documents to the paper. However, attempts made to get more detailed records were unsuccessful Tuesday. Spokane attorney Steve Graham provided the full probable cause affidavit to the newspaper Wednesday morning. In an email, Graham said he isn’t representing Hoenes but tracks cases where self-reporters are being punished for honest mistakes.

If convicted, there is a maximum penalty of one year in jail, a $5,000 fine or both.

After concluding the interview, officers took the deer meat from Hoenes and donated it to the U.S. Air Force’s survival school. The antler and tag were logged as evidence.

In an email to all Fish and Wildlife staff Wednesday, Susewind said it was “important the legal process play out.”

“Brock did what we encourage anyone to do in this situation, which is to call WDFW Enforcement and report themselves if they suspect they’ve violated a fish and wildlife law,” Susewind wrote. “Brock has discussed this incident with his regional management team and others. Please provide Brock space to address this important matter; more information will be shared when it is appropriate to do so.”

The case has raised questions in the hunting community about the complexity of hunting laws in Washington and whether the term “poacher” should be used to describe hunters who accidently break the law.

“The wildlife code is extremely complex, and ‘poaching’ isn’t quite the term for them to use,” said the attorney, Graham. “The maxim ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’ made sense in historical times, but in the face of the modern game code, anyone of us can get stung.”

Northwest Sportsman, a Washington-based hunting and fishing publication, argued in an article Wednesday the term “poacher” should not be used for people who self-report after realizing they broke the law.

“Doing so indicates honesty, integrity and a strong regard for the rules and concepts of fair play and fair chase at places and times where it is otherwise relatively easy to get away with doing something illicit,” wrote Andy Walgamott. “As for the dictionary, it defines a poacher as ‘a person who hunts or catches game or fish illegally.’ While quiet on the question of intent, in practice, there’s something of a spectrum, with poacher typically reserved more for those who willfully disregard the regulations, grossly exceed limits and/or wantonly waste fish or wildlife, among other actions.”

Correction: Due to a reporter’s error the late general whitetail deer hunting season dates were incorrectly reported. The correct dates are Nov. 6 to 19.